If Pakistan had won the T20 cricket world cup, things would have been much more different for the country’s morale. The impact of news stories of violence and vitriol that followed may have been dulled, washed over by the aftertaste of a coveted victory, with the weekly tragedies quickly relegated to a realm of battles fought and lost before. Perhaps that was not meant to be. Perhaps the gods wanted us to feel the full force of our reality, free from any pills to help us escape into a world of hoisted trophies, trippy lights and upbeat music.
However, Coke Studio 14, arriving at a rather distressing time in our socio-cultural history, aims to provide just that to a country that eats, loves and more often than not, prays through music. Xulfi and his league of musicians are all set to unveil what has been a rather turbulent ride finally taxying for landing.
As discussed on several social media pages, the show has been condensed to a much shorter format of 12 songs. No, don’t confuse it with season 2020 because that was just a last-minute season pushed by then producer Rohail Hyatt, released with a budget and with an urgency akin to the aspirations of the Pakistani indie music scene – so 12 episodes were what they could come up with.
This season started off with a quirky announcement of Xulfi taking over the throne, implying a bigger marketing campaign ahead, but a few controversies in the middle may have just subdued the enthusiasm with which he was supposed to be anointed. Sources confirm that there aren’t any major budget cuts so the 12 songs are all rich in audio-visual presentation with apparently a separate music video director for each song. There were also rumours that since songs are being shot separately they are not going to be recorded live, but that isn’t true – all songs have been recorded live and the shoots are underway in Karachi, not Lahore, as planned earlier.
Strings’ greatest feat as Coke Studio producers was giving multiple deserving but not-so-famous music producers the limelight they deserved. The likes of Shuja Haider and Shani Arshad were called in as ‘Music Directors’ with Strings continuing to serve as producers of the show for the four seasons they helmed.
This time around Xulfi is working with a few ‘Associate Producers’. As much as the term is up for debate, just like ‘Music Directors’ itself, his army of magicians is smaller, younger and a lot more hip. Abdullah Siddiqui of Resistance and Peshawar Zalmi anthem fame and Zain Ali, who has an extensive catalogue ranging from Red Blood Cat to Piphany Productions and touring with Atif Aslam to playing in Coke Studio are there, along with the EDM champ Talal Qureshi. Xulfi himself is completely producing only a handful of songs. So, if anything, one might see a wide range of experiments and relatively more creative freedom than previous such arrangements.
The sound and presentation, as expected, will be as hip and contemporary as possible, and to be honest with you, a show that has passed its shelf life by several years had no other chance but to shake things up a bit. There’s rap, there’s qawwali, there’s EDM and no covers at all. The modern prince of Pakistani pop Hasan Raheem can be termed as the headliner from the indie scene along with Atif Aslam and Abida Parveen as the mammoths of the game.
Meesha Shafi gets another season along with my personal favourite, Faris Shafi. It will be the first time that two will perform on a song together, most likely produced by Meesha’s chutney expert Abdullah Siddiqui. Sajjad Ali and Bohemia were a part of the initial discussion but both aren’t part of the show for different reasons, and neither are Shamoon Ismail and Natasha Noorani.
To bring it all to a close, Coke Studio and Xulfi have made some drastic changes in the show’s overall approach that was usually more Sufi and devotion-driven, but it is hard to say whether it will sit well with the classic CS audience without the paid promotion.
Artist line up
Soch the band
Faisal Kapadia as a solo artist